Rotigotine is a new, non-ergot dopamine agonist formulated in a transdermal delivery system. The present study was to investigate the efficacy and safety of the rotigotine transdermal patch in the treatment of early Parkinson's disease. Patients (n = 561) were randomized to rotigotine, ropinirole, or placebo. The titration period was up to 13 weeks, and there was a minimum dose-maintenance period of 24 weeks for ropinirole and 33 weeks for rotigotine. The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients with a minimum of 20% decrease in the combined Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale Part II and Part III scores. The responder rate in the rotigotine group was significantly higher than in the placebo group (52% vs. 30%, P < 0.0001). Transdermal rotigotine at doses < or =8 mg/24 h did not show noninferiority to ropinirole at doses < or =24 mg/day. In a post-hoc subgroup analysis, rotigotine < or =8 mg/24 hours had a similar efficacy to ropinirole at doses < or =12 mg/day. The rotigotine transdermal patch was well tolerated. The most common adverse events were application-site reactions, nausea, and somnolence. Application-site reactions were predominantly mild or moderate in intensity. In conclusion, the rotigotine transdermal patch represents an effective and safe option for the treatment of patients with early Parkinson's disease.